This past Friday, many of us gathered in front of the Madinah Masjid forming a Ring of Peace in shared grief, solidarity and partnership with Muslims after the white supremacist shooting of Muslims in prayer in Christchurch, New Zealand. We were a sea of people including members of the DJC, members of our Danforth Multi-faith Community, along with folks of other religions, fellow neighbours, politicians, activists and allies. At that same time on Friday afternoon, there were about 15 other Rings of Peace throughout Toronto, organized by the Jewish community. We were woven together with shared silence and song, words of comfort and common cause.
It struck me as potent that this action of solidarity and its affirmation of equality, diversity and justice was taking place the day after Purim. Purim is brilliantly absurd and absurdly brilliant. We tell a story filled with the threat of violence and impending slaughter fueled hatred and bigotry, permitted through the dangerous decisions of easily influenced and easily frightened people. The reverberations of Megillat Esther with the current rise of white supremacist ideologies of hate are striking!! If we do Purim right, it gives us the opportunity to embody our darkest fears and flip them on their heads. With tongue in cheek and a strong, irreverent flipping of the bird, with costumes and inverted consciousness, instead of being terrified by it all, the customs of Purim let us shake our fears loose from their grip, encourage us to exaggerate our power, act out our rage and urge for revenge, and then exorcize them. At our packed DJC Purim celebration this year, we did just that – with dancing, spoof and sharply-pointed satire.
If we do Purim right, we emerge the next day less afraid and more bold, with new clarity and enlivened courage, with a greater sense of our own strength and revitalized capacity to change the course of events. Beginning the day after Purim, we enter thirty days of preparation for Pesach as a process of conscious work toward liberation.
Below are words I shared in front of the mosque at the Ring of Peace last Friday. I hope they spark and shape our work in the coming month, deepening our engagement with ever-unfolding Jewish liberation, personal liberation, and as our call to work in partnership for the liberation of others who are targeted and threatened.
“Friends, we are here as allies and partners to the Muslim community in this moment of shared horror and grief in the wake of last week’s shooting. We stand together in protection and in solidarity with our Muslim siblings as they pray.
We are here as allies and partners to the Muslim community beyond this tragedy, as we work together to counter white nationalism, as we work to end Islamophobia, alongside ending anti-Semitism, ending racism and ending all ideologies of hate. We do this by building strong relationships between one another, between communities and across faiths. We do this through education and we do this through legislation.
We are here to build a society that affirms the full dignity and sacred worth of every human life. We are here to build a culture that grows stability through our deepening understanding of one another and our mutual concern for each other’s wellbeing. We know that our society is stronger and wiser and more resilient when we have everyone’s thinking, everyone’s voices in all our diversity.
We are here in empathy, in partnership and solidarity, in the work of justice and in the rigorous embodiment of an ideology of love.
Friends, I want to ask something of you while we are standing here and in the days to come. I want to ask you to tell each other – What are your fears right now? What scares you about our society and our world? Talk about it with each other so that fear doesn’t make us numb or paralyzed or small.
And then, look into each other’s eyes and tell each other what makes you hopeful right now? Where can you notice evidence for goodness and hopefulness? Talk about it with as many people as you can, with people as diverse and different from you as you can, so that we are grounded in a clear, resilient and brave vision of the world we are building together. Use hope as a discipline and so the enactment courageous justice and rigorous love become unstoppable.”
Please join us on Sunday March 31st at 1PM for a Seder Workshop called “The Cry that Sparks Redemption.” We’ll explore the Haggadah’s telling of the first sparks of liberation – the cries and sighs of an oppressed people – and trace the arc from wordless sound, to courageous speech, to freedom-song. We’ll see how these teachings might guide the work of liberation today, for our world and for self-transformation.